Ruth Scobie’s previous work for The Toast can be found here.
If you were a lonely man in late eighteenth century London, “adapted to make a lady happy,” but too shy, busy, or damned chivalrous to actually speak to one, you could send an anonymous advertisement to a national newspaper appealing to the women you wanted to bang and/or marry. Posting an ad was quick – you dropped it off at the printer’s office, it was printed in a couple of days – and pretty cheap – around three shillings, or sometimes free. More importantly, it would give you the chance to explain to everyone your generous and honourable intentions, especially in contrast to the “intrigue, treachery and interest” of most men.
Less often, newspapers offered opportunity to pressure your beloved with poetry, chase missed connections with strange ladies at the theatre who had totally given you the eye over their fans, or publicly harass women who refused to see you. Almost all adverts only appeared once, suggesting that they were either very, or not at all, effective.
(You must have known, though, that a woman responding to one of these adverts was running huge risks, not only of physical assault, but of a public shaming which would be at best embarrassing and at worst life-ruining. Adverts promised secrecy, but she would have to take your word for it that they weren’t hoaxes or blackmail scams, or that you wouldn’t respond to rejection by making her name public. If she did say yes, a wife was legally subject to her husband and all her property automatically became yours – hence all the romantic interest in prospective fortunes. If she did agree to “dispense with the Marriage Ceremony” or live with you without marrying first, the loss of her reputation could make her social and economic situation even more precarious, since you could ditch her, and any children she might have had with you, whenever you wanted.) Also, your poetry was terrible.
A CHALLENGE to the LADIES.
A Gentleman, who is a widower, turned of thirty, and has estate of near 400l. per annum, has no children, and flatters himself that his person is not disagreeable, sends this challenge to any single lady, either maid or widow, from twenty years of age to thirty, and of an amiable, soft disposition, and whose fortune will command a settlement of 200l. per annum. Any lady that has courage to answer this advertisement, may, by appointing a place of interview, depend on the strictest honour and secrecy; or if any female friend of a lady, who has interest sufficient to bring about such an affair, may be assured to meet with a gentleman not in any way deficient in point of generosity. Any letter directed for M.B. at the Sword-blade coffee-house, Birchin-lane, shall be properly attended to.
A Person, in an advantageous situation, having acquired a capital, and his character unexceptionable, would willingly change his condition in the matrimonial state. As the above representation can be testified, he hopes that the present mode of courtship, which is by intrigue, treachery and interest, will apologize for this method. As his intent and meaning are truly honourable, that lady who chuses to send a line for W.B. at No. 7, Blewit’s Buildings, Fetter-lane, Holborn, will be addressed to, or a personal application to her, or her nearest friend.
From the above recommendation, the advertiser flatters himself the lady may be endued with a small portion herself.
A Reputable wholesale Tradesman, near forty, whose character will bear the strictest scrutiny, free of all incumbrances, and every way adapted to make a lady happy, is desirous of entering into the matrimonial state, with a prudent good tempered lady, either maid or widow, from thirty to fifty, with a moderate fortune: but having little acquaintance with the fair sex, and not much time to waste in fruitless courtships, wishes to meet with a proper introduction to such a lady, for which he would make any lady or gentleman a suitable acknowledgement. A line directed to T.N., No. 14, corner of Castle-yard, Holborn, will be duly noticed.
A Gentleman, who has everything he wishes for but a female companion, thinks the addition of an agreeable one would make him completely happy; but it being almost impossible to judge (from common acquaintance) of anyone’s temper, disposition, &c. he proposes to some agreeable young lady, who wishes to know the man in whom she intends placing a lasting confidence, that she should live and board in his house until each should have a perfect knowledge of the other; which, proving satisfactory, would most likely be productive of perpetual happiness. As he means nothing but what is honourable, he has no objection to the lady’s mother or any other companion living with her. He is aged about thirty-five, and spends in his house about 500l. per annum. Address to M.Y. at Mr. Minns, taylor, in Surry-street, Strand.
To the LADIES.
A Young Gentleman, desirous of avoiding a promiscuous Connection with the Fair Sex in this Town, wishes to form an Attachment with some agreeable young Woman, who can dispense with the Marriage Ceremony. As this Gentleman will afford a Sufficiency for her Comfort and Happiness, he hopes none will apply who have not Figure. Not being well versed in Intrigue, he hopes the Lady will strike out some Means, by which an Interview may be had with Secrecy.
Letters directed to A.B. to be left at the Penny-Post, Curzon-street, May-fair.
If a Lady who sat on the third seat in the middle of the gallery in Drury-lane playhouse on Monday night, will favour Z.Z. with a letter directed in those letters, to be left at George’s coffee house, Temple-bar, and with the place at which she may be seen, she shall be waited upon by a gentleman who proposes nothing but the most honourable terms of marriage, if she be yet unengaged and unmarried. She was drest in a lustring night gown, with red and green stripes, the red going off in white on each side; she wore a black capuchin turned up with fur, a black hat, and cross barr’d muslin apron; she seemed to be between forty or fifty, of a pleasing countenance and expressive eye; she was accompanied with a young lady who seemed to be her sister, together with a gentleman in a claret coloured coat with brass buttons, and his hair in a bag. The favour will be most acceptable to the advertiser.
IF a LADY who on Tuesday night last sat on the fourth, and afterwards on the third row of the second front box, at Drury-Lane Theatre – will honour that Gentleman to whom she then silently conveyed such happiness, with her address, he will be sincerely obliged to her; if she will direct a note for E. with it inclosed, to be left at the Hotel Coffee-house, Covent Garden, it will be received by one whose desire of her acquaintance can be his only excuse for this public address.
To Mrs. L – WR – NCE.
WOULD ELIZA then cruelly silence the strain,
When the bard is unworthy her care; –
Deny him the last consolation of pain,
– Forbid him to paint his despair?
Then useless no more, that in tears and alone,
He wastes the long night for thy sake;
Content – if you know that his heart is your own,
Tho’ that heart you may suffer to break!
– C – R – D.
I AM no stranger to the object that engrosses all your attention. Say, do they know your worth? Or if they do, are they capable of setting a proper value on it? – No. – For Heaven’s sake, if you have any regard for your future happiness immediately drop this connexion; it may disturb your peace and ruin your interest, but can never be of the least advantage. Friendship like ours should never be disturbed by an interloper. It was unkindly done to disappoint me five times last week of the happiness of seeing you. Let me beg and entreat you to dine with me to-morrow, at three o’clock, in P-t-street; then a scheme shall be laid before you which it is impossible you can have any objection to, except you are infatuated to your own destruction.
MARIA, let Remembrance, Shame, Fear, or any other more noble Motive, immediately grant me a Line from you, or by every Thing sacred and divine, Revenge shall obliterate my former Fondness, and hunt you headlong down to Destruction. – “Revenge from any other Hand but mine would be none; no, I will have ample Vengeance.”
1 Gazetteer and Daily Advertiser, 16 April 1770
2 Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser, 28 October 1775
3 Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser, 12 March 1776
4 Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser, 15 September 1770
5 Public Advertiser, 5 March 1784
6 Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser, 6 March 1767
7 Morning Post and Daily Advertiser, 15 February 1777
8 Morning Herald and Daily Advertiser, 7 May 1782
9 Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser, 6 March 1767
10 Public Advertiser, 18 December 1770
Ruth Scobie is a postdoc research fellow at the University of Oxford, working on eighteenth-century celebrity culture. She would really like to talk about old newspapers, Sarah Siddons, Mary Shelley, and the flouncier wardrobe choices of British naval captains in the 1780s, if those seem like things you’d be interested in.